“Let me be straight with you. What I'd rather have is an airplane. We just had a third kid. I don't like flying commercial. I like to take my family to Hawaii. When I go east, I'd like to have pilots I know. ”
Safety First—or Second?
Some private flyers seem to want to remain “under the radar.” They like that they can avoid interaction with the general public by leaving and arriving via inconspicuous FBOs, and they travel on unmarked jets, sometimes with the protection of the National Business Aviation Association’s Blocked Aircraft Registration Request program. The less of an impression they make on the masses the better.
But impressing colleagues and other private flyers is sometimes another matter. California-based Xojet, for example, took a chance when it painted the company logo on its airplanes’ nacelles, because conventional wisdom says that business jet travelers want to be viewed by their peers as using their own aircraft, not mere charter flights. Moreover, numerous interviewees have told me that bizjets have helped their companies not only because the airplanes save time but because they impress clients and customers and make a statement about the owner’s success level.
There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s human nature to want to make an impression. That tendency may account at least partly for the fact that some people buy $20,000 watches even though $20 ones tell time just as well. It may also explain why I’ve retained Apple’s “Sent from my iPhone” tagline on emails.
Still, a preoccupation with appearances can go too far, as I was reminded a few years ago, when I learned why aviation seatbelt maker AmSafe was having trouble introducing its products to business jets. According to a representative of the company who spoke with me at a National Business Aviation Association convention, the safety value of its airbag-equipped belts had been conclusively proven, but sales hadn’t taken off because bizjet owners felt the devices would interfere with the look of their luxurious leather cabin seats.
AmSafe has since found ways to make its belts less obtrusive and more attractive and now, according to its website, the company offers “several buckle choices, including teardrop, classic square and pushbutton, with over 100 webbing colors and multiple hardware plating possibilities” to match any interior. The design tweaks appear to have helped, as AmSafe reports that many leading business jet manufacturers now employ its restraints.
As for any ultra-fashion-conscious aircraft owners who still opt to forgo airbag-equipped belts, they’ll probably be just fine, because bizjet accidents are extremely rare. Still, should an onboard crisis develop, I suspect they’d regret their decision. After all, as they might belatedly realize, it’s hard to show off the stylishness of your airplane if you’re not alive to own it.